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Bluefield State Football player Julius Brown puts together his dorm room during move-in day Thursday for the college’s football team at the new residence hall established at the former Bluefield Regional Medical Center.

BLUEFIELD — A former hospital was alive Thursday with hustle and bustle as college athletes moved into newly-renovated dorm rooms that once housed patients.

Bluefield State College athletes pushing carts and carrying boxes loaded with belongings were the first students to move into the new residence hall established at the former Bluefield Regional Medical Center. Bluefield State announced plans in December 2020 to purchase the facility and use a large part of it for dormitory and classroom facilities. The emergency room and adjoining medical facilities remain open.

Dr. Ted Lewis, provost and vice president of academic and student affairs, was helping students get into their new quarters Thursday morning. More than one person had remarked that they had not seen so many vehicles in the parking lot for a long time, he said.

“Today we’re moving our athletes into our residence hall,” Lewis said. “It’s the first time in over 50 years that we’ve had a residence hall on campus, and we’re absolutely delighted to be moving them in.”

About 56 athletes were moving into their new dorm rooms; most of them were football players scheduled to start practice next week, Lewis said.

“Next week on Aug. 6, we’ll be moving in our general student population,” he added. “We’ll have another 120 or so move in next week. Right now it looks like we’ll have 175, 180 beds filled.”

The students represent all of BSC’s majors. The former hospital is now the college’s only residence hall, but another is scheduled to open on campus within the next few months, Lewis said. 

“This allows us to expand our footprint,” he said of the new hall’s advantages. “I’ve met students today from Georgia, Mississippi, from Missouri; so this allows us to reach out and attract more students to the Bluefield community and the college by having residences on campus.”

Converting patient rooms into dorm rooms was “very easy,” Lewis said. 

“In many cases, they’re much bigger than other colleges’ dorm rooms,” he added. “All of them have their own restrooms. That’s pretty uncommon.”

Some of rooms house two students while others house one. 

“All of the doubles were taken pretty quickly, so we have a few singles left,” Lewis said. “But all of those should be filled by the end of this week. Today is moving in day, and today we’re packaging that with a vaccination campaign on campus. The first part of the parking lot has the vaccines that we’re giving out today. We’ll also be giving those out on Aug. 6.”

The vaccines will not be only for BSC students and staff. Members of the community are urged to come out as well, Lewis said. 

“We don’t require them. We strongly encourage them,” Lewis said. “Many of the students, most of the students, have received their vaccines, but it’s not a requirement at this time.”

The hospital’s cafeteria will be converted to serve both students and the community; the facility, operated by Aramark, will be a new restaurant for the area and a place where civic organizations and other entities can meet, Lewis said. A name has not been chosen yet.

Winnie Newberry, the human resources director for the Princeton Community Hospital’s Bluefield campus, watched as the new dormitory space filled with students.

“It’s exciting, it’s exciting,” she said. “It’s a new chapter for Bluefield. I think it’s great opportunity for both organizations, Princeton Community Hospital and Bluefield State College, to further the education opportunities in our area, especially for the medical folks that we can see coming through these programs and hopefully coming to work for Princeton Community Hospital one day. We’re excited to see the building come alive again. That’s what we’re excited about.”

The emergency room and the support services such as radiology, respiratory therapy, a laboratory, radiation therapy and outpatient testing will still be functioning, Newberry said.

Inside, visitors could see the wooden handrails along the hallways’ walls and other clear signs of the hospital’s past as students established themselves in their new rooms. Some central areas had been turned into small lounges equipped with chairs and big screen televisions.

One BSC football player and freshman, Destin Forrest of Glochester, Va. and his roommate were getting settled into their room. He had not envisioned moving into hospital room converted into a dorm.

“Not exactly, but I’ve a place to stay and I’m going to school,” he said. “That’s all I can ask for. It’s going smooth. We’re just trying to get everything situated and get to know each other. My family, they love it. They think it’s perfect for me and that the area’s perfect for me. That’s all I can ask for. As long as they’re happy, I’m happy.”

Down the hallway, freshman and defensive back Elijah Padgett of Princeton was getting settled into his new quarters. He said he was excited to start playing.

“It’s been a little stressful,” he said. “It took a little while to get all the paperwork done. Once that was done, it was really fun moving into the dorm and getting everything situated. It’s kind of weird because this used to be a hospital, but it’s pretty nice in there. They did a good job.”

Padgett’s mother, Stacy Padgett and his grandmother Robin Martin of Princeton relaxed in a nearby lounge while he got settled in.

“I’m impressed,” his mother said. “They made the changes and made it look not so much like a hospital and more like a dorm.”

Martin liked the new facility, too.

“We’ve been here over the years for a lot of sad reasons, but it’s good to be here for a glad reason now,” she said.

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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